Pharmacy: The family profession


A surprising number of pharmacists belong to "pharmacy families." Contributor Fred Schenker sheds some light on why that is so.

A few months ago, Drug Topics launched the series "Pathways through Pharmacy," to give working pharmacists the opportunity to describe some of the many ways they have found meaning, purpose, satisfaction, and reward in the profession. A surprising number of pharmacists we have heard from belong to "pharmacy families," including Pete Kreckel ["All in the family: Two generations in pharmacy"] and Irwin Woldman ["Pharmacists by the dozen"]. The latest to join the ranks is Fred Schenker, who shares his story below. 

My name is Fred Schenker, RPh. When I read Irwin Woldman’s story about all his pharmacist relatives [“Pharmacists by the dozen," July 9, 2014;], I decided to write in and tell you about what pharmacy has meant to my family.

The family

I am part of a three-generation pharmacy family.

My grandfather, Emanuel Schenker, RPh, owned and operated the Biber Apotheke at Porzellangasse 5 in Vienna, Austria, from the latter part of the 1800s until he passed away in the 1920s. After well over 100 years, this pharmacy is still in operation at the same location!

My mother, Ethel, worked at the Biber when she was a student at the University of Vienna pharmacy school. That’s how she met my father, Ludwig Schenker, MPh (Emanuel's son). My parents came to the United States in 1922 on their honeymoon and decided to stay, leaving my Grandpa minus his most important staff.

My dad worked at many Manhattan- and Bronx-based pharmacies till 1942, when he purchased Blaine Drug on Burnside Avenue in the Bronx. He owned that pharmacy until ill health forced him to close it in 1972.

My brother, Richard Schenker, RPh, graduated from Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in 1949. He worked at the Blaine for many years before he bought and operated several of his own pharmacies in Manhattan and the Bronx. Unfortunately, he passed away prematurely at age 46, and my dad passed away several months later.


A childhood in the family pharmacy

I remain the final leg of this multigenerational saga in the pharmacy world. With a grandfather, parents, and an older brother all pharmacists, I have been in pharmacy all my life.

I was 12 years old when I started working at the Blaine, filling OTC cough medicine (brown mixture, terpin hydrate and codeine, etc.) for the OTC market, making special-formulary suppositories for our three hospital accounts and several nursing homes, and ultimately delivering those same medications.

My dad actually tried to discourage me from being a pharmacist, but I prevailed and became a licensed pharmacist. I graduated from Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in 1960. I have owned several pharmacies and have at times been written up in professional publications, such as American Druggist and Drug Topics. I am currently licensed in New York, Connecticut, and South Carolina. At 76, I am semi-retired.

A shared tradition

Pharmacy has been a rewarding profession for the entire family for generations. Our mutual care for and understanding of our patients’ needs was passed on through the family. My life was greatly enriched by carrying on the traditions of our shared profession, and it makes me very happy to share my stories of helping people with their health decisions and of the appreciation that I received in return.

Now, I was fortunate to have those early experiences in pharmacy before I entered our chosen profession and perhaps you did not, but that’s okay - create your own experiences, and some day as a parent or mentor, you can pass them on!


Daily practice

Here are some of the things I learned.

When patients come to you, think of it as a sign of respect. They visit their doctors, clinics, or hospitals first, and then they seek your input. I consider that an honor, not a disruption.

When they come through our doors they are very needy; they are unsure of their own decisions or they question their medical practitioners’ advice. And they turn to us. Wow, that’s respect. Use it well. Never be afraid to discuss your patient’s questions. Be confident in your response, and if you are unsure, say so and do some research.

Sure, the third parties are a pain and the phone does not stop ringing all day, but it is something you should take in stride; it’s secondary compared to the service you provide for your patients. What you do for them can be life-changing.


Making a difference

One time a man asked me for something for pain relief and showed me his leg - it was almost black and nearing amputation time! I sent him to the ER by cab …

Then there was the time that a man was hit by a car under the elevated subway near my dad’s pharmacy. People ran to the pharmacy to ask for help.

I ran to the scene and found the man bleeding and helpless; he had an obvious compound fracture. He also did not speak any English. I stopped the bleeding as best I could with a towel that I had brought along as a pillow and waited with him for the ambulance.

Six months later this man came to the pharmacy and presented me with a 10-peso Argentinean note in thanks. I still have it!


Thanks, Doc

There have been so many other events like these. The memories are extraordinary. I wish I had a share of Apple or Google for every time I have heard the words, “Thanks, Doc.”  To this day I continue to meet former patients on the street or at a mall or medical building, and I am greeted with much affection.

Knowing that I have helped people has rewarded me every day of my life. These experiences proved that pharmacy was the best career choice I could have made - and the above-average income doesn’t hurt, either!

Fred Schenkerlives in White Plains, New York. Contact him


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